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Apr/May 2008 Fiction Special

House of Cards

by Michelle Tandoc-Pichereau


They've been on that road for quite a while. Shasha had her eyes closed and was stretching her mouth to a wide "O" to get the pressure out of her ears. She heard gravel crunching, the strained whir of the engine gunning up the hill, the fluttering of leaves. Or were they wings? Beside her, her father breathed heavily. Some malformation of ligaments or whatnot prevented Ted from breathing properly through his nose, and the poor man sounded like an obscene caller no matter what he did.

"You closing your eyes, Sha?"

"Yes, yes, I am. Are we there yet?"

"Almost."

Minutes later, she felt the Mazda shudder to a stop. Huge, lumber hands swallowed her eyes. "You ready?" Ted slowly counted to three, then fanned out his fingers to reveal Shasha's birthday present.

Zen Buddhist Monastery, the sign said. "Ta-da!" said Ted. "Didn't you say you always wanted to learn how to meditate? That you wanted to be like the orange monks on TV?" They had been watching a National Geographic special on Burma, and Shasha had remarked how good it must be to live like the Bhikkus--to aim for nothing but Nirvana, your own liberation.

"Right," she said. "This is... I don't know what to say." That morning, Ted had parked his briefcase right in the middle of her Botany textbook and told her to pack her bags. So she had packed her sexy lingerie, her fuck-me-now stilettos, the silk ties she had bought him for tying, not wearing. Usual paraphernalia.

"Didn't I tell ya? Didn't I say you were gonna love it?" Ted's voice was a child at Christmas. Ted, who once snipped daisies from a neighbor's yard because Shasha said they looked pretty. Who let her eat chocolate fudge for breakfast, right from the pot. Who laughed every time people told him how grown up his little Shasha had become. "I saw the flyer at Starbucks and thought it was perfect for my rosebud. That it'll make her happy." He traced a path on her face, fingered the hollow of her neck.

Outside, a bell struck a deep, distant gong, slow at first and then fast. Shasha tried hard to remember if that was what they called Fan or Huan. She knew it had something to do about being alert at dusk and banishing bad elements.

"Hey! Shasha!" Ted shook her shoulders, like he always did when she was a kid, when he caught her staring off into space. "You are happy, right, kiddo? You like it?"

She turned to look at him, a balding Buddha with his palms outstretched.

"Samyak," she answered. In Buddhism, it meant several things--complete, perfect, right. Ted's smile crumpled like a house of cards, and Shasha knew he had already forgotten about it, that he had no idea what she was talking about. But then, she realized, neither did she. Beyond them, the lone monastery bell chimed and echoed, echoed and chimed.

 

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